There is a common misconception that because I use the Elle Sera pages as a platform to educate and open discussion around hormonal health, women’s issues and contraception - I’m dead against birth control pills. This is not the case. I agree for some, it’s a source of relief from many symptoms experienced during your menstrual cycles and allows women control over their reproductive choices.
What I do disagree with is the way it’s marketed as a ‘cure all' for every hormonal issue with virtually no warning about the potential side effects. It’s my personal view that women are put on combined oral contraceptives (COC) at a very young age with zero education.
Medical professionals will tell you 'the birth control pill is a safe, simple, and convenient way to prevent pregnancy. It reduces acne, makes your periods lighter and more regular, and eases menstrual cramps' (taken from the NHS website directly).
In reality they are championing putting exogenous synthetic hormones into your body, and no one really discusses the negative outcomes. They simply describe a list of 'possible' side effects from the back of a pamphlet. It's ok saying, "you may experience headaches, breast tenderness, mood swings" but that is the extent of the education they will give you. I know this, because my doctor does it to me all the time.
As a mother of a newborn less than one month - I’m also bombarded with questions about what contraception I may wish to choose - the pill, the coil, the implant, or the injection… not once do they ask what my partner might use as contraception… and a vasectomy is never mentioned.
Some might say that it’s anti-feminist for not hailing The Pill as fabulous. Yes it gave us some freedom, butl it's also the result of a culture that expects women to bear the costs - health wise and financially - of preventing pregnancy. Like I said, the side effects can be difficult to deal with and women have been expected to quietly accept this.
Interestingly, in 2016, a clinical trial of a promising hormonal contraceptive pill for men was halted for safety reasons. (Headlines at the time focused on the fact that a number of the men complained of adverse side effects, many of which may sound familiar, including acne and mood swings.)
I believe in your right to choose whatever you want to do with your own body of course - but equally I believe in knowing ALL the options.
Most women are not told they can only get pregnant for a few days out of each month and that this can be managed totally naturally, if you are willing to put in a little effort. But instead, birth control is prescribed like sweeties. This is indicative of a problem with society at large. A distrust for the natural rhythms and intuition of our body and a disconnection from the world around us. Finding a pill for every ill and disrupting the natural cycles.
There also seems to be absolutely zero logic in the medical community when it comes to hormone modulation. A 16-year-old girl who knows nothing about hormones can walk into the GP and asks for birth control. Without even looking at her baseline blood work they would hand her a prescription with several refills on it for something like a synthetic Nandrolone, which is NOT a bioidentical hormone and is not something your body produces, or is deficient in, ever.
Yet, a woman who enquires about HRT or a man suffering with low TRT is brushed aside and told they’re fine. Again, this may come across as me frowning upon birth control, which is not necessarily the case, rather I’m simply trying to make clear how you may want to question what you are putting into your body and any hormonal issues should they arise as a result of contraceptive usage.
'How does birth control even work?'
Hormones in birth control pills prevent pregnancy by:
- Stopping or reducing ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary).
- Thickening cervical mucus to keep sperm from entering the uterus.
- Thinning the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg is less likely to attach.
- Birth control pills control the menstrual cycle and thus prevents a possible pregnancy
'What are the possible side effects?'
We have the usual ones:
- Breast tenderness
- Spotting or breakthrough bleeding.
- Missed periods or amenorrhea.
- Weight gain.
- Mood changes.
- Decreased sex drive.
- Lack of ability to orgasm
But also ones which are seldom spoken of:
- Autoimmune issues
- Gut issues
- Breast/cervical cancer risk
- Liver issues
I give frequent information about why testosterone is so critical for women and I can tell you this with certainty - when you are on the pill, your testosterone levels will significantly decrease, your SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) levels will skyrocket (depending if you are on a COC with Ethinylestradiol/synthetic oestrogen receptor agonist), and as a consequence your free testosterone levels will be vastly reduced.
This leads to low libido, weight gain, changes in mood and energy level, and over a long period of time may also contribute to more serious issues like heart disease, poor memory, and loss of bone density.
This is not fiction - there’s evidence to back up what I’m saying - a systematic review and meta-analysis including 42 studies showed a mean decrease of 61% in the free testosterone levels of healthy young women (age range: 18-40 years) who used the contraceptive pill.
Hormones are a symphony and when they are out of balance your whole health can be affected. A women's cycle is dominated by two main hormones: progesterone and oestrogen. The Pill disrupts the natural balance of both.
The cycle starts on the first day of the period when oestrogen and progesterone fall, shedding the uterine lining. This happens in days 1 through 10. Around day 10 the brain releases FSH (Follicle-Stimulating Hormone) causing oestrogen to spike and the release of the egg around day 14. At the end, it's called the follicular phase, when oestrogen returns to baseline levels. The second half of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase occurs after ovulation and is dominated by the hormone progesterone. So what happens with birth control? Unlike a normal cycle, birth control delivers a large dose of synthetic oestrogen and progesterone throughout the entire cycle.
This would be okay if progesterone was good to be at these levels every day of every month or if the effects were isolated to the uterine lining, but that isn't the case.
Remember birth control does NOT regulate your hormones, it shuts them down and stops them communicating from the brain to the ovaries and puts you in to a temporary chemical menopause. Effectively castrating yourself and tricking your body into already thinking you're pregnant. It also depletes key nutrients, disrupts your microbiome and reduces your bone mineral density.
The Pill creates mayhem in your gut which can manifest in numerous not-so-pretty ways. Among those problems, studies show that oral contraceptives impact the gut by adversely affecting oestrogen metabolism, with all its detrimental consequences, including weight-loss resistance. The Pill also increases your risk for inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease; in fact, two large prospective cohort studies of American women linked oral contraceptive use with Crohn‘s.
Other culprits of female hormonal imbalance can be attributed to the amount of chemically laden products women use and their undernourished diets as a result of diet culture. Instead of getting to the root cause of the problem, ladies are then offered the pill, thinking they need the pill to “get their cycles back on track and regulate hormones". Failing to understand what was the cause of the problem in the first place and by being offered a medical “solution”- you’ll probably cause even more problems.
Everyone saw The Pill as a way to make women feel like they are empowered, but does it really do that? Some could argue it actually disempowers their sexuality and makes them less discerning who they sleep with and share their sacred body with. Men also have become so spoiled with free, clear sex and take absolutely no responsibility for birth control themselves.
Ladies- you can get off the pill. Check out something like natural cycles. Men- help your ladies out. Too many beta male’s running around not ready to be Men and take responsibility for birth control. You'd have to be an incredibly selfish person to support your spouse/significant other taking birth control just to avoid personal accountability. But I'm sure they aren't doing it intentionally, they just don’t realise how badly it could be effecting you. You probably don't even realise yourself.
Also here’s a fun fact - You pick a different partner while on birth control. The mate choice is especially fascinating and it makes me wonder how many marriages fell apart because they met on The Pill, then the female came off it to have kids and lost attraction to her partner. Taking The Pill changes the traits women prioritise in their partners. Because pill-taking women don't ovulate, they don't experience the pre-ovulatory oestrogen surge that increases attention to markers of genetic quality in men. So being on the pill is- at a minimum- probably going to decrease the priority that women place on a partner's sex appeal when choosing mates.
The birth control pill is also so widely used it's in the water supply. Along with plastics, this is one of many major contributing factors to decreasing testosterone in men and gender confusion. It's been pretty much proven by Dr Shanna Swan's body of work, but thats a rabbit hole for another day.
If you imagine the delicate balance of your hormones is like a child's mobile, by adding weight to one arm - it will disrupt ALL the others. Remember this when taking ANY exogenous hormones, HRT included.
Hormones are the key to understanding why you are the way you are and your behaviour patterns. And there is not one hormonal birth control that doesn't disrupt these patterns.
This lack of knowing about the real effects of long term use of The Pill has resulted in millions of women, who believe that's just the way they are supposed to feel and just except it as 'women's problems'.
They think it's just the way it is to have a low libido, be full of anxiety, shy away from tough situations, have a tough time building muscle, getting rid of fat, sleeping and recovering. More often that not, you have no idea and have not made the link between your oral contraceptive pill and how you feel and the effect it's had on you for years because no one has told you otherwise. So here I am - telling you - ready and waiting in the wings for any other questions you may have.
Years from now we'll look back horrified the pill was promised as a 'cure all' and had significant detrimental impact on women's health. Better options do exist with less impact on hormone levels, or lack thereof entirely.